I'm writing this on the screened porch. It's just started to rain. We've had a lot of clouds lately, and several late afternoon/early evening thunderstorms, but very little rain of the gentle morning variety. You can hear the garden applauding.
Just finished Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year in Food. I actually started reading it last May, but it got me too excited about gardening at a time when it was too late to put in a good vegetable garden (we'd just moved into this house and hadn't had a chance to get digging), so I had to stop reading. But now I've got a vegetable garden in the backyard, thanks to my husband, and all that excitement generated by reading about locally grown food has a place to land.
I love the idea of growing and making as much of our own food as possible. For one thing, home grown and homemade just taste better. But also, I think making and growing your own food is good work. It's satisfying, it's creative, and it serves a purpose.
That's what I've been thinking a lot about lately. Wendell Berry, one of my heroes and favorite writers, posed the question succinctly: What are people for? To be honest, I think we don't know any more. Surely we weren't made to spend our lives in front of screens, were we?
Most of us--including me--are divorced from the things that sustain us. We don't grow our own food; we don't even know where it comes from. We don't make much of anything. A lot of us make our living doing things that aren't particularly meaningful to us. No wonder everyone's depressed. Our lives are arbitrary in so many ways.
And what are children for? Sometimes the answer seems to be that children are for being kept entertained and amused at all times so they don't bug us too much. Or for being sent to school, so that they can learn the skills they'll need to get jobs they don't much care about so they can make enough money to consume lots of products that will satisfy them so little that they'll have to run out and buy some more.
More and more, I'm thinking about what kind of good work I want to do and what kind of good work I want my children to do. This weekend at the farmers' market I met a man who quit his job to raise goats. His two sons (9 and 11) were there selling the goat cheese their family makes on their farm. They were quiet, competent kids, wrapping up logs of fresh cheese, taking money, making change. According to their dad, who I had a nice chat with, they help raise the goats and make the cheese. They are a part of their family's economy. They contribute. The work they do is actually meaningful.
I don't know if my husband and I will ever chuck it all and move to ten acres somewhere. We dream about it from time to time. My husband would be a great farmer. He loves being outdoors, loves growing things, loves having projects. I would love having chickens. And mostly I'd love to see my sons learning how to build things and take care of animals. I would love for them to have good work to do, work that means something to our family.
In the meantime, I'll continue to try to find work here that they can do and that will benefit our little home economy. I want to teach Jack how to make bread. I think the science of bread-making will interest him. I may get Will to make our Christmas cards. I suppose teaching them to sew their own clothes is out of the question (since, for one thing, I myself don't know how to sew clothes), but I bet I could teach them how to wash their own clothes. Oh, the possibilities are endless.
And important. I want my children to live lives that don't feel arbitrary. Hell, I want to live a life that doesn't feel arbitrary. That's the problem for those us raised in the suburbs and who are raising our children in the suburbs--you can feel like your life is weightless. You eat, sleep, go to work or school, find some way to keep yourself entertained while the household machines do their (your) work, the dishwashers and dryers humming along. You look for stuff to do, you look for stuff for your kids to do--and to what end? Where is the meaning?
Of course, I'm a believer in God, so I believe meaning is afoot in all our actions. But belief in God brings us back around to the question What are people for? What have we been created to do? I'm not sure of all the answers, but it's got to be more than keeping ourselves amused.
And I really, truly think the answer has something to do with growing our own tomatoes.